CPBO Spotlight On: Aetna Inc.

Aetna, the recipient of the 2009 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award, has a longstanding tradition of pro bono service.  Among the first to do so, the legal department adopted a formal pro bono program in 1981.  The program’s longevity is due in large part to consistent support from general counsel over the years, including current Senior Vice President and General Counsel Bill Casazza.

Connecticut Lawyers’ Legal Aid to the Elderly
Since the program’s inception, Aetna’s lawyers have handled hundreds of cases in the greater Hartford, Conn., area dealing with elder law issues such as estate planning, Medicaid, Medicare, landlord-tenant disputes and Social Security benefits under its Connecticut Lawyers’ Legal Aid to the Elderly (CLLAE) program.  Under the CLLAE program, Hartford legal assistants directly take incoming calls year round from local senior citizens. 

Lawyers for Children America
In 1994, Aetna’s legal department helped found Lawyers for Children America (LFCA), a nonprofit organization that recruits volunteer lawyers to represent abused and neglected children.  Lawyers for Children America became an independent nonprofit in 1995, though Aetna continues to support the organization by providing office space and covering all operating expenses.  Originally a Hartford-based project, LFCA now has three offices in Connecticut and a program in Miami.

Reparations for Holocaust Survivors
Starting in California, Bet Tzedek, a legal services organization, created a clinic model to provide support to Holocaust survivors, and in partnership with attorneys at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP*, created training materials and workshops in order to replicate the model throughout the U.S.  As the program was rolled out across the country, Aetna jumped at the opportunity to organize and lead the reparations clinics in Connecticut.  Aetna also recruits additional volunteers by reaching out to its outside law firms.   

In 2011, Aetna renewed its commitment to Bet Tzedek by reviewing previously denied applications for survivors whose cases have been re-opened and will potentially receive significant back payments.  Fourteen lawyers and 11 legal assistants volunteered for this program in 2011. 

National Veterans Legal Services Program
Aetna’s legal department has participated in the Lawyers Serving Warriors program, sponsored by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) to provide free legal representation in disability, discharge and veterans benefits cases to service members and veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Volunteers received training on laws governing the military and veterans’ benefits programs and work with an NVLSP mentor who is experienced in military and veterans law.  In 2010, 25 Aetna lawyers and staff participated in this program. 

Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania
Aetna’s Blue Bell, Pa., office partners each year with Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania to perform in-person client intake sessions several afternoons per month, freeing up the Legal Aid attorneys to focus on their current client matters.  In 2011, seven lawyers and staff participated in this program.

Individual Service
Aetna routinely conducts department-wide surveys of skills and interests to pair attorneys and legal assistants with individual projects in the geographic areas and subject matters that appeal to them most.  For example, Aetna worked with pro bono organizations in Connecticut to match attorneys with expertise in health insurance law to assist local nonprofit health clinics, hospitals, and health foundations.  Members of Aetna’s legal department also participated in a one-day birth certificate clinic organized by a local corporation and law firm.  More than 30 lawyers and legal assistants participated in individualized pro bono service.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project